I’m standing on the first-floor balcony of the Mercado Municipal– A brown two-storey building which houses Santa Maria’s Farmer’s Market, as well as a good number of offices.
It’s a new building. I think they recently commissioned it. A considerable number of the offices haven’t even been allocated yet.
There’s this empty office in one corner of the second-floor. I sneak up there every once in a while with my laptop to get some electricity. I sit on the floor in my jeans- stiff with salt from walks along the beach, and make life plans on the computer.
What sort of a shape should my professional life take, What the fuck is my precise plan with this gap year, What’s going to happen with college etc.
I don’t know if it’s allowed. But the door usually isn’t locked so I’m not like, breaking in or anything.
Making plans gives me a calming sense of reassurance during these thoroughly uncertain times. I’ve spent all of the money I came into this country with. My parents and I have been in intense arguments since the beginning of the year, and so I don’t ask them for money.
I don’t think it makes sense to exchange in series upon series of heated messages with your parents, engage in boiling, livid arguments on the phone-
I don’t think it makes sense to do all of that, and then at the end be like Err, so I know we’re all like boiling with rage and stuff, but do you guys mind sending me some money so I don’t like, die in this country
Yeah, I need you to send me money so I can keep doing what I want and we can keep having more arguments- How’s that
I want to do what I want with my life, but I want to do it on your own dime
Not like there’s that much money to send in the first place.
Parents are like, What????
What are you doing in that country? Who sent you there? Aren’t you supposed to be with your classmates in Argentina? Your classmates in that ridiculous unrealistic school that we don’t really understand?
Aren’t you supposed to be studying to get your university degree?
So you can get a good job in the US after graduation and begin to earn in Dollars?
What are you doing in Cape Verde?
Who sent you there?
Wait, where is Cape Verde again?
Ah! You must be experiencing a spiritual attack. The envious enemies from our village have seen your future glory and have employed metaphysical projectiles to derail you from your destiny.
Demons were launched from our hometown to turn your brain upside down. That is why you think it makes sense to jettison a marvelous college programme- To abandon an opportunity to be employed in Heaven- Heaven being another name for the USA-
That is why you think it makes sense to abandon all of that and begin to roam the wilderness.
What are you doing??
You need deliverance.
Ah, our enemies have won!
Ah, our enemies are rejoicing over us in their witchcraft covens!
Ah! Our lives are finished! Our son is lost! Lost to the evil demonic powers of the world!
Ah! O ma se o! What a pity!
A lot of the time, I have absolutely no idea where my next meal will come from.
My Senegalese neighbours have been immensely helpful. I am extremely lucky to have them. Most afternoons, they make a huge bowl of delicious food. Usually they invite me over. Most of the time I’m in my apartment, pretending I don’t need their food. Pretending I’ve got things all figured out. Stomaching my discomfort.
And then the aroma of their Senegalese dishes- with names that sound like Chebujeri and Maave, begin to waft in, torturing me all the more.
And then eventually there’s the invite.
“Mayowa!! Come! Come eat! Come!”
Those guys are mind-blowing cooks. Like, I don’t understand. I have absolutely no idea.
It’s always like magic. I have absolutely no idea how they do it.
Their food is so good. Like, so good.
I had no idea some people boiled carrots. In rice. Amongst a lot of other things, they put the carrots in seasoned rice to boil. I was very surprised to see that.
But every once in a while things are horrible. Business doesn’t go so well for them, and they make barely any money from the stream of tourists on which Sal island thrives.
On such days, everyone is hungry. You can feel the hunger in the air.
There was this day:
I was seated somewhere on the expanse of small black stones that I think used to be a lawn.
I saw Izmir Bamba walk by.
Izmir Bamba is one of my Senegalese neighbours.
I saw him walk by, but he wasn’t really walking, no. Not really.
He was swaying. From side to side. Like a speedometer.
He probably hadn’t eaten anything that day.
He was swaying from side to side because he could barely stand straight.
If I myself was feeling more energetic, I would’ve burst out laughing.
Not out of derision. No. It was just funny. I’m sure even he would’ve understood.
There’s a small opening in the wooden frame of the roof.
The roof of the empty corner office on the second floor.
The one I sneak into, to charge my computer.
It’s like a sunroof. Skylight.
It’s a skylight.
The woodwork on the roof is interesting.
One of my college professors in the previous semester, had a similar skylight in his office.
I could see it in the background of his video stream during our remote classes in Berlin.
He was in Budapest.
I thought it was cool.
There’s tailor who has a stall on the other side of the building. Right across the square space between the office rows from which you can peer downstairs at the Farmer’s Market.
It usually feels good looking down and seeing all of those nice colourful inviting fruits. Very picturesque.
Earlier in the year, a kind fruit vendor gave me some bananas and I think some oranges for free after I tried buying with my last Euro and US dollar cents.
She had this understanding, sympathetic look on her face. Like aw, he’s trying to buy fruits with these useless coins, let me help him out.
The tailor has this apprentice. More often than not, he’s expressing some sort of disappointment at him.
The poor guy usually has his nose to the sewing machine- or tailor’s chalk- whatever instrument he happens to be using at the time.
And his tailor boss is usually like, yelling in frustration. In Creole.
It’s not always so clear what he’s saying, but from his flapping arms I can usually tell it’s something like:
“What sort of a human being are you?”
“Why can’t you learn? That was not what I said!!”
“Look at this! Look at this line you’ve just sewn. Was that what I said you should do??”
“Was that what I said you should do????”
I’m standing on the balcony of the first floor.
I’m thinking about a book I’ve been reading- “You Must Set Forth at Dawn” by Wole Soyinka. it’s an autobiography.
I think it’s an immensely inspiring book. I started reading it late last year in Berlin.
I find the author to be a remarkably intelligent and insightful individual. Wole Soyinka is extremely popular in Nigeria- particularly because he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature sometime in the nineteen-eighties. He’s the first and only person from Nigeria to be awarded a Nobel- and I think the first black African.
Before coming across the book, he was this name I had always heard in conversation, and was generally this Nigerian poster-child for people who use “big words”.
I began reading the book, and all of a sudden I was like Wow, this guy is actually a remarkably interesting guy Hm!
I’ve been thinking about a line from the book. I think from the Foreword or Dedication or something.
It went something like “I dedicate this book to my wife- my loving wife to whom my perpetual absence made me a husband only in name, and to my stoically resigned children…”
I’m particularly surprised by his “matter-of-factly” tone. He doesn’t sound regretful about being a perpetually absent husband or father. he doesn’t even sound sad. Just this flat “This was how it happened and that’s that”.
I think it’s very unusual, and I’m curious why he has that perspective of his marriage and his children.
I started the book late last year. I’m still reading it.
You know, as much as I can afford right now. In between figuring out how to get food and stay alive.
I’m standing on the balcony, ruminating on that sentence, and peering down at an interesting playground across the road.
I’m here today, because I’m waiting for someone.
Two people actually. I’m waiting for two people.
About a week ago I walked into this woman doing something in an interesting-looking office. Here. Here at the Mercado Municipal.
We began to talk.
It turned out she was a Director of this Biodiversity NGO in Cape Verde. She and the second Director were from Spain. Very curious, I asked questions about the NGO. As she answered my questions, she showed me around the office. There was this really interesting miniature model of a Turtle Nest facility they had somewhere on the island- It was just beautiful to look at.
At some point I chipped in that I was on a gap year from college in the US. I mentioned that I had some cool techy AI stuff I could do with their historical turtle nesting data that could help provide useful insights into their strategy and stuff.
She seemed interested. We talked some more and then scheduled a day for me to meet with both her and the second manager.
That day is today.
I’m very excited. We’re planning to do some AI stuff.
Some real stuff. In the real world. With a real organization. Not some inert college paper that’ll end up in just grades. I’ve been very uninspired by that recently.
There’s this guy.
In one of the offices on the first floor.
He’s an optician. I think.
Or an ophthalmologist. One of those eye people. He’s got all of the eye equipment in his office. Lenses and charts and stuff.
He’s from somewhere in Europe.
I walked into his office the other day. We got talking.
He has this interesting car collection on one of his desks.
He was telling me about his perspective on life and marriage and children.
There was an old picture of him standing with a woman- somewhere on the wall I think.
I asked if she was here on Sal.
He said no.
He said a man and a woman should only be together for a while, have kids, and once those kids are grown everyone goes their separate ways.
With regard to a long-term relationship with a woman, he said “I’m happy alone”.
And then he said: “Children are like birds. They fly!”, gesticulating with his fingers.
He said his children were doing well. Said one of them worked at Apple. And that their mother was somewhere, living her life.
I was standing there and listening to him. I thought his perspective was weird.
At some point he began to talk about girls.
He looked at me:
“Girls, When I need…” he said, looking around
“I catch!”, clasping his fingers together like the talons of a hawk.
I kept listening.
Mister “When I need I catch.”
After our conversation, I headed out of his office. I think at the time, I was trying to figure out how to withdraw the last few dollars on my Bank of America ATM card.
As I headed out, I saw him like flirting with a Cape Verdean girl walking by.
I focused my mind on my financial worries, trying not to imagine what happened whenever Cape Verdean girls came along for eye tests.
I’m still here, standing on the balcony.
The NGO guys are not yet here.
Image: Somewhere on Sal.